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Holinger: Surviving ‘The List’ – and all it dictates

When my brothers and I were growing up, to help keep order at our Wisconsin vacation cabin, my mother Scotch-taped rules everywhere, signing them, “The Management.”

Above toilets, she posted: “Do not flush anything down except toilet paper. The Management.” My brother Bill, later becoming a writer, showed an early appreciation for clarity when he anonymously (only his handwriting giving him away) scrawled beneath the message, “Anything?!”

When my mother died, so did the annoying scraps of paper. A few years ago, however, my eldest brother resurrected the directives’ spirit by creating and publishing “The List.” Everyone – family or renter – who stays at the cabin receives a copy and is required to read, agree to and follow it. Like a public pool’s rules board, no objections or questions are entertained.

A sampling (from memory):

“No. 1: You break it, you fix it or pay to have it fixed.” This covers wine glasses to the porch swing. Its tone makes me drink merlot from a paper cup and nap in a tree.

“No. 4: When leaving, put back the boats EXACTLY where you found them.” Upon arrival, the smart occupant draws a boat diagram before kayaks scurry from under the porch, the canoe jumps off its sawhorses or the rowboat escapes its tree mooring.

“No. 9: “Clean the grounds of ALL litter.” That means every single broken water balloon. One year we missed a couple. We received a chastising phone call. We haven’t missed one since then.

Since The List’s publication, the “No Crap” rule (its name revised for family reading) took effect. It works this way: “(Fill in name here), your leather sandals are truly beautiful, but left sitting in the middle of the living room floor, they look like crap.”

By now, you’ve gleaned my ambivalence to The List – while drawing attention to issues needing attention, its voice sounds condescending and authoritarian.

Regardless, the other day I began a home version of The List. Why? Because after several years of empty-nesting while our kids enjoyed college, my wife and I now find butter and eggs abandoned on the counter after someone made breakfast; partially-filled bottles, cans and cups left on tables that one assumes a parent or butler will pick up; and all the bath towels disappearing like a magic act.

So, I wrote: “No. 1: If you take something from the fridge, put it back when finished. No. 2: Dispose of partially-filled bottles, cans … ”

“What are you typing?” my daughter asked, walking up behind me.

“‘The Home List.’”

“What? You can’t do that!”

“Read it.”

She read it. “You can’t do that!”

“Next: ‘Bath mats and towels are not floor tiles or carpet savers. Hang up after showering.’ You want to add a rule?”

“Thou shalt not make lists,” she probably thought, but said, “Dad, don’t print it. Give us a week.”

“OK. But I’m saving it,” I called after her, although she’d already begun picking up towels, collecting half-empty cans of La Croix and putting the hummus back in the fridge.

I’m sure of it.

• Rick Holinger has lived and taught high school in the Fox Valley since 1979. His poetry, stories, essays and book reviews have appeared in more than 100 literary journals. He is the founder and facilitator the St. Charles Writers Group. Contact him at

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